Monday, November 11, 2019

Splish Splash and Cannon Blasts - Forts and Cruising in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Fully rested up, we're ready to start exploring a little deeper into Halifax.  After breakfast and getting ready, the phone rings. It's the Harbour Hopper tour office telling us we will not be able to do the 1:30pm tour we booked because the accessible vehicle will not be ready until 2:30pm. Would we mind waiting an hour?

Watch the Video!

No, we're good. Actually, this is great because it gives us a litte more time to explore what would become my favorite attraction here, the Halifax Citadel.

This is where the English part of the city was founded back in 1749. A heavily fortified hill that was the North American military backbone of the English Empire. It also just happens to be right across the street from our hotel.

It may be just across the way but it's still up a steep and big hill. We have to track up five blocks, feeling every step in our glutes, to get the accessible route up to the entrance. Tim has a power chair so it's no big deal for him.

We buy our tickets and pose with the guard.

Over the moat and into the cobblestoned entrance, it's another photo opportunity with the guards but this time, they can break the pose and smile with you.

Inside, there's a large parade ground covered with hard packed gravel. It's not a problem for most chairs. There are some deeper, softer spots around the edges that you should take care to avoid.

Built into the wall, there's a museum of British and Canadian military history that winds you through several rooms.

It's interesting, especially as an American seeing things explained through the British side of things when you get to the period of the Revolutionary War.

Tim's am what sounds like a cannon going off repeatedly. Actually, it's a musket demonstration going on over in another corner of the fort. I amble over, too late to take pictures, but here a very interesting spiel about why the armies of the day marched in attack lines, hundreds of soldiers wide, as opposed to taking cover.

In short, it's because the soldiers were nervous, the guns smooth-bore, and they figured with everybody shooting at once, there was a good chance that someone would hit something, even if a lot of shots went wild.

Over in the barracks building, a docent tells us the fascinating story of everyday lives of the soldiers.

Here, he demonstrates some of the games the soldiers would play to pass time in the barracks.

I must say that the docents here at the Citadel are among the best we've ever encountered in our travels. They were very knowledgeable, engaging, and made the history come alive. We enjoyed our visit to the Citadel a lot more than we thought we would.

At noon, another crew fires off a cannon over the wall that was to alert the ships and citizens of the town so they could set their clocks.

At this loud point in the action, we take our leave of this fascinating old fort that also has an elevator so that wheelchairs can access the path around the top of the ramparts.

It's about four blocks down the rather steep hill to the city's waterfront. This afternoon, we need to be there for our next adventure. We're going on the Halifax Harbour Hopper tour. This is like the Duck tours you have in cities like Boston but up here they're named after a frog instead of a waterfowl.

An old army surplus amphibious vehicle is used so that after tooling around the city streets for the first half of the tour, the truck turns into a boat and floats in the water for the second half.

You need to book the wheelchair accessible vehicle at least a day ahead of time. We stopped by the office yesterday to do just that.

At the appointed time, the vehicle pulls up and a manual, hand-cranked, wheelchair lift is deployed to get Tim onboard.

Once he's in, and strapped down, we're off.

First stop is a couple of loops around the Citadel, where we'd just come from, so we got a bit of a rerun.

Then, it's off to the streets where we see some old cemeteries and the large park known as Halifax Common.

It's through the shopping district and then by St. Paul's Church, the oldest building in Halifax dating back to 1749.

It's off to the casino where a ramp hidden alongside allows us to splash into the water.

It's a slow cruise along the waterfront, an area we've been exploring on foot for a couple of days now. The HMCS Sackville, a Canadian Corvette that was a legendary U-Boat hunter in WW I, is docked next to the Maritime Museum.

Georges Island, with it's pretty lighthouse and another historic fort, is the next landmark we pass.

We see the Halifax Transit ferries ply their way across the harbor, make one more pass along the waterfront from the casino to the cruise ship dock, and then it's back to the base.

It's a lot of fun and one of the few, truly accessible boat tours in the region.

Afterward, we make our way back down the waterfront to Pickford and Black, a waterfront seafood restaurant where we can bask in the late summer sunshine.

Letty has their wonderful seafood chowder and lobster roll...

...Tim the fish 'n chips...

...and the landlubber in the family has a creamy pesto chicken thigh.

It was all marvelously delicious and a perfect way to end this day.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Cocktail Hour: Oktoberfest Brews

We love Oktoberfest, the celebration of King Ludwig's marriage, here at The World on Wheels. We make it a point to attend one of our local celebrations each year.

We also love the special brews breweries make for this occasion each year.

One of my favorite selections from the 72 taps of T. Phillips Alehouse is the very well balanced Spaten Oktoberfest. Smooth, a tiny hint of sweetness, with just a hint of caramelly hoppiness, a pint goes down so well any time of year but it's of limited availability.

Recently, we had a barbecue over at my mother-in-law's house and tasted a few others to compare.

Widmer Brothers Okto was nice but a bit blander than the Spaten offering. OK but not worth the extra two bucks our local store charges for a six-pack over the other Widmer offerings.

Next, it was on to the Sam Adams Octoberfest beer (notice the Americanized spelling). This is better. Pretty tasty and I can drink it easily all night but noticibly sweeter than the standard-bearing Spaten.

Last was the Leinenkugel Oktoberfest from Wisconsin. With their overly sweet summer shandies, I wasn't expecting too much from this but it blew me away with just a tinge of caramelly sweetness finely balanced by a decent hoppy bite.  I'd like to find some more of this before the season's over.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club



Friday, November 8, 2019

Grumpy and Weary - Checking in to Halifax on a Wing and a Prayer

After a subpar night at the hotel at San Francisco International Airport, 13 hours of flying and layovers, and a foggy drive into down, we're putting the red into the red-eye from Calgary.

We get to the Homewood Suites in Downtown Halifax at 8am. Of course, they're not going to have our room ready at this early hour but they are willing to watch our luggage for us and we're free to use the lobby until the room is ready.

I leave my cell number with the front desk and we drive to the waterfront. It's interesting but, of course, everything's closed this early in the morning. We're too tired to continue so we head back to the hotel and try to make ourselves as comfy as possible, falling asleep where we sit, and with bad humors to boot.

It's the Grumpy Musicks taking up space in the Homewood Suites lobby.

At noon, the travel gods smile on us and my phone rings. The room is ready. The clerk asks us to come to the front desk. As I'm sitting on a couch about ten feet away from her, I raise my hand and say "here I am!"

We check in and, to our surprise, the room is exactly as we booked and hoped for. It seems that, lately, we've always have to trek back to the front desk to complain about the accessibility of the room, the location, the noise, things not working, etc, so it was a nice change of pace to have everything just as we wanted.

I go get us some burgers from a nearby Wendy's, we have dinner in the room, call it a night, and sleep like logs to cure us of the big hangover of jet lag.

After a decent breakfast at the hotel breakfast bar, we walk down the steep hill to the waterfront three blocks away. Now that we're rested and it's later in the day, we'll take it in a little better.

First stop is the Harbour Hopper Tour office to make arrangements for an accessible tour tomorrow (you need to give them 24 hours notice). More on that tomorrow.

Next, we whet our whistles at a waterfront beer garden and strike up a conversation with a cruise ship passenger from Oklahoma. He works in oil and gets 6 weeks off each year. He's spending his time travelling.

Across the way is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. This is very interesting but keep in mind, the bathrooms on the second floor are more accessible than the ones downstairs.

Halifax has a very long maritime history. It served as the main base for the British in their wars on the continent...they had to come from somewhere during our revolution...and continues to host the biggest Canadian naval base.

A parrot squawks a welcome as we enter. We see displays of ships and weapons of this country's navy, including the story of the Sackville, an historic Corvette that is tied up to the dock just outside.

Very interesting is the display of all the shipwrecks that continue to be found on the bottom of Halifax Bay including that of the HMS Tribune whose overconfident captain refused a pilot when he entered the bay in 1797. Running aground on some rocks, he still refused rescue thinking the tide would lift the ship to safety.

A storm set in and, while the men took to the riggings to try to survive, only 14 did of the over 240 man crew.

Of course, the big star of the show is the Titanic exhibit. Halifax was ground zero for the rescue and recovery effort when the big ship sank in 1912. Here, you see many exhibits and hear stories of that tragedy including fixtures from the ship, a pair of child's shoes, and a piece of the life jacket that John Jacob Astor wore.

We take a breather on a outdoor deck before seeing the rest of the museum.

Just beyond the museum, the waterfront is taken up with a massive construction project for a bunch of condominiums. Truth be told, it's a rather ugly wound on an otherwise beautiful waterfront. To get around it, we have to navigate a floating bridge. 

It works but it's like a carnival ride with all the rocking from the little waves.

Back on the boardwalk, we make it to the Ferry Terminal. There's not too many accessible ways to take a boat ride here in Halifax, but the ferries are so we take a trip across the bay to Dartmouth.

It's public transit so it's a $2.50 discounts for disabled on Halifax Transit, by the way...a cheap way to take a quick boat ride to the other side. A transfer (available by request for free) will allow you a return trip, as well, as long as you come back within two hours.

In Dartmouth, a long switchback ramp leads us up to street level from the Ferry Terminal. On top, we find a nice little block with a small selection of restaurants and bars. We end up at Whiskey's Lounge which has one of the few accessible dining areas, in front on the patio.

Beers all around plus some decent pizza will be our lunch over here before we head back to take the return trip to the Halifax waterfront.

Continuing on, we come to the Historic Properties, a group of old buildings used by privateers to hold their booty (a privateer is a legal pirate...they would get a license from the king or queen which would allow them to plunder other ships at sea and split the proceeds with the Royals).

It's a nice mall with a nice restaurant or two that we'll return to later. For now, it's time to head back up the hill to our room to rest up for tomorrow.

Darryl Musick

Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

TRAVEL TIPS: Packing for Travel

Rick Steves likes to say pack as little as you think you’ll need, then take less than that.
Packing for a trip is always a challenge, you don’t want to forget that one item that you’ll end up needing but you also are trying to limit how much you’ll have to carry, especially if you’re flying.
Many people try for that elusive “one carry on bag” so they can just hop off the plane and be on their way but for most wheelchair users, we need to carry too much and always end up checking something.
Still, we strive for that magic amount of clothes and accessories that leaves us with as little as possible to carry along with everything we’re going to need.  Here’s how we do it…
Pack with the idea that you’ll wear some of your clothes more than one day. For pants, I take two pairs for a week…the one I wear on the plane and another pair in my luggage. Dark colors can help hide an accidental stain and if it gets too bad, you can always find a laundry or washing machine nearby if an emergency makes you wash your clothes.
We also try to take clothes that are easy to clean in our bathroom sink or tub. For instance, these cargo pants from Campmor wash very easily and air-dry within 30 minutes. They also feature zip-off legs to convert them into shorts. Very handy for traveling.
One pair of shorts will do, none if you’re going to somewhere cold, swap another pair of shorts for one pair of pants if you’re going somewhere hot.
One pair of what I call “house shorts,” a comfy pair of gym shorts that I can lounge around the hotel in that also doubles as swim trunks if I need them to.
Two nicer shirts, like a polo shirt, and 6 T-shirts. I’ll wear a different shirt every day, t-shirt if I can get away with it, and save the nicer shirts for going out.
Underwear for a week...a pair a day. Same for socks. They don’t take a lot of room.
One jacket that will be appropriate for the climate I’m visiting (this can range from a hoodie to a down jacket…depends. Check the weather before you pack) and a hat. Also, if the weather looks like it will be cold on arrival at your destination, take the jacket onboard so you can wear it when you get off…no need to freeze.
If I’m going to be gone for more than a week, I’ll plan on doing laundry at some point but will not take more that what I have above.
For shoes, I take one pair of “coaches” shoes…nicer looking athletic shoes that can be worn casually with shorts and white socks, or going out to dinner with pants and a polo shirt. I also take a pair of flip-flops that I can use for lounging around the hotel, going to the pool or the beach.

Since we have to check our bags when we travel anyway, we'll put the clothes for all three of us in one suitcase. If it's over the airline's weight limit, we'll split it into a smaller bag as well.

I don’t bother with shampoo or soap…the hotel will have that. I take my toothbrush, a disposable razor, shaving cream, deodorant, and toothpaste.  I’ll also take along some Rolaids, Ibuprofen, and Imodium for any maladies that may pop up, along with any prescription medication I need.  Anything else that I find I need, I’ll pick up at a local store at my destination.
Due to my being a travel writer, blogger, and video producer, I tend to take more camera equipment that most people. Still, when buying equipment, I try to get the smallest possible components that will still allow me to get quality shots.
Technology has come a long way, it is very possible to buy high definition video cameras that will fit in your pocket and do not use tape or discs to record. Many high quality cameras also come in little packages. Fuji, Canon, and Nikon all have great pocket size cameras with high resolution and powerful zooms. 
One still camera can fill the need for most people. If you want a dedicated video camera, you can get one of each and put them in your pocket.

For most people, however, many mobile phones also have pretty good video and photo capabilities now and will do nicely.
That’s it for me…although my wife will also want to pack her cosmetics and supplements though what she packs all fits in with my stuff in our overnight toiletries bag.

With the wheelchair, we’ll first determine if we’ll take a power chair or a manual chair. Power chair is very nice at your destination, provided it is accessible enough for a power chair, since you have more independence. We make an effort to take it but leave it at home if we have any doubts and take the manual instead. Recently, we also bought a 60 pound (including batteries), folding power chair for traveling. We take that now instead of the manual. 
If you do take a power chair, the biggest hassle is getting it on the plane and off the plane at your destination but that’s another story…what we’re concerned with today is that you’ll also need to take a charger for the batteries.
Realize that medical equipment doesn’t count against your weight limit for luggage and doesn’t get charged a fee in the United States and EU countries.
Before you go, check to make sure your charger will work with the electric outlets at your destination. Voltages and outlet designs vary greatly across the globe…don’t assume that you can use a cheap voltage converter either. Call the manufacturer…I did and found out our charger wouldn’t work in Europe and  the cheap outlet/voltage converter we had might actually kill the charger.
Think of any bathrooming equipment you’ll need to take along. Are the smaller versions available…more portable versions? Are there other ways you can take care of those needs without bringing the equipment? Can the hotel provide some of this equipment (like a bath chair) or can you rent or buy cheaply when you get there?
Don’t worry too much that you’ll forget something. You’ll find stores at your destination to fill those needs. Pharmacies for any medicines or sunscreen that you need; thrift stores or discount stores if you need a particular piece of clothing; electronics stores for batteries or converters…there’s not too much that you can’t find while on travel.

Finally, souvenirs...if we can't fit them in luggage we'll do one of two things. Rethink the we really need it? Where will we put it? Is it worth the hassle? The other option is to ship it back home. Most places have businesses such as Kinko's or the UPS Store that will do this for you at a nominal fee.
So, as Mr. Steves would say…go over these items. Pack as little as possible…then go back and take out what you really don’t need.  No one ever says “gee, I wish I’d packed more.”
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Pin It

Monday, November 4, 2019

Travel Day - San Francisco to Nova Scotia

I feel like Danny Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" movies these days when it comes to travel...I'm too old for this shit. It's just such a marathon to get to some destinations anymore.

It's two and a half hours from our house to San Francisco International Airport. My wife doesn't want to wake up and leave very early in the morning so I relent and book a night at the Embassy Suites Waterfront hotel, just south of the airport, for the night before.

A faulty air conditioning tower in the parking lot next door keeps us up most of the night but it does allow us to relax a bit in the morning before hustling into the airport.

Inside, once we find the right counter, Westjet is accommodating to us on our first flight from SFO to Calgary in Alberta, Canada. I paid extra to be booked into their premium class (what most airlines would have called first class about 20 years ago) and to be able to sit Tim in the first row.

This also allows me to tell the airline that I don't need help getting Tim on the plane. I can just bring his wheelchair into the door of the plane, have him bear his weight while I stand him up, and swing him over to his seat about five feet away.

The flight to Calgary goes well enough...we were delayed about 20 minutes at take off and then about half an hour in Calgary because one of the ground crew didn't come back from his meal break on time...and we settle in for a five hour layover before the next flight.

Going through passport control, all is going well until we get to the automated kiosks. They won't focus on Tim to take a picture, he's too low in his chair to get a good shot. We have to do it the old fashioned way, with an Immigration Officer.

"Please hand me your previous flight's boarding pass," he asks.

It's back on the plane in the seat pocket at my seat.

"You'll have to exit the secure area and have the airline issue you a new one."

Navigating from the exit to Westjet departure desk in Calgary is quite a walk. Once we get there, they just tell us to use our next boarding pass and go through security again.

We're back in secure terra firma, browsing the Hudson newstand, looking for snacks, until it's time to head to our gate, number 73 in the C concourse. It's in a quiet, out-of-the-way part of the airport.

It's almost time to board. The gate agent, Jeffrey approaches us and asks to see our boarding passes then returns to the counter. In a minute, he returns..."we have a little situation."

Situations are never good at the airport. Airports can be evacuated for "situations," you can be denied boarding for "situations," things are never good in "situations."

"We cannot allow you to sit in the front row since you are special needs," he explains to us. "We'll have to reseat you in the back of the plane."

Let me interrupt this bit of news to explain something...when we can and when we can afford it, I like to splurge on the front seats of the aircraft. This is almost always first class (premium class, business class, whatever the airline calls it) and means that we'll get a nice, wide seat with the most legroom on the plane.

It also gets us the best towels, cocktails, nicer meals, free baggage, lounge access, front of line access at the ticket counter and security...and, most important of all, it gives me plenty of room to easily transfer Tim into his seat.

Tim has explained the usual boarding process for the mobility impaired in a previous post. In short, it's a pain in the ass for him and he really doesn't like it. He'll put up with it when he has to, but he'd really rather not do it.

When we're in the front row, I can easily seat him, as explained above. The flight crews are always impressed by this bit of practised boarding. To us, it's just simply easier and less prone to mistakes and injury. I've done this hundreds of times...many times, the boarding crews are just learning how to do it and make a myriad of dangerous errors.

After Tim is seated and buckled in, I fold up his wheelchair into a nice, easy-to-handle 50 pound bundle for the baggage handlers to take. The whole process takes less than five minutes and no one has to wait around for the airport crew to show up.

It's a true win-win for everyone involved.

Back at Calgary's gate C73, I put on my debating frame of mind and ask Jeffrey as nicely as I can, why can't we sit in the front row? Westjet knew when I bought the tickets that Tim is special needs and uses a wheelchair because he cannot walk at all. I mention that this has never been a problem before, even on Westjet. In fact, we just flew on Westjet from San Francisco in the same situation and no one said one word about it.

"It's company policy," he said.

"No one has said anything until now. Your tariff doesn't say anything about it (Westjet's tariff - the document that explains their policies that must meet Canadian Federal laws - says that disabled are prohibited from the exit row and the aisle seat on a bulkhead row. Tim was assigned the window seat - Ed)," I replied.

"Our equipment to seat him cannot be deployed in the front row."

"How can that be?" I answered. "It makes it to the back of the plane where there is much less room and it is exponentially harder to transfer him to a seat. Besides, I'll be doing the guys don't have to do anything."

"I'll need to find a supervisor to see if we can approve this," he says and walks off to start dialing the phone.

We're flummoxed as to why this is suddenly a problem (or "situation" as the airlines like to say) after all these years. It reminds us of the time where suddenly the batteries to Tim's wheelchair chair became a problem after many flights with no problems.

We watch as he tries to get someone with authority on the phone. This is a late night flight so it takes awhile. We watch as he explains and we wait. We watch as the rest of the passengers are wondering why we haven't boarded yet.

He comes to tell us a supervisor is on her way to explain things to us. In the meantime, he gets on the PA and tells the passengers in the lounge that boarding has been a bit delayed because of a "situation that needs to be cleared up."

Oh, great. Now, we're a "situation" to the rest of the flight's passengers.

The supervisor finally shows up and starts to explain things to us. I explain everything I've already covered here, plus told her that we paid a precious premium to sit in these seats on top of the fact that if something went wrong it would be much, much easier for me to evacuate my son from this seat than any other seat on the plane.

She says she'll go to the plane and ask the pilot and crew if they have any problem with it. About twenty minutes later, we're told that the crew has given us our blessing and five minutes later, we're securely aboard. Jeffery comes and apologises, saying he's new and doesn't feel comfortable approving things like this. I thank him and in my thoughts think that maybe he doesn't feel comfortable but he sure didn't have any qualms about making up airline policy that doesn't exist.

Finally, we're on our way and five hours later, we're landing in heavy fog in Halifax, Nova Scotia. So heavy that I was waiting as we descended in the clouds for a clearing that never came...suddenly, the thump of the runway told us we were on the ground. At the gate, I could see the orange cones  on the flashlight of the ground crewman right outside of my window but not the man himself.

As we deplaned, the captain told us that he almost diverted to Moncton...a hundred miles away...but decided he could do a blind instrument landing.

Oh my...

Well, now we're safely on the ground. Navigating Hertz for our rental SUV was easy and we're off in the fog and rain at 6:30 in the morning to find our hotel.

See you when we get there.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Classic Trip: Bavaria, Germany - 2009

Munich, Bavaria, Germany

NOTE: Usually, on Sundays, we have a Cocktail Hour post but for today we're going to rerun the first trip report we did on this blog because we've now been doing The World on Wheels for 10 years! Let's go back to where it all started...

Below is our newly re-edited video of this trip, Parts 1 and 2Part 2 should start immediately after Part 1 ends.  Click on the links in this paragraph if you'd like to watch them separately.

Watch The Video!

Previously...we were in France. In this, the second installment of the trip, we fly over the Alps to Munich.

First, let me say that Munich is the most accessible city I've ever found outside of America. It's even more accessible than many American cities, and that includes my hometown of Los Angeles. Railed transit goes everywhere here and it's all accessible to wheelchairs...granted in some of the larger stations it may take a little while to locate an elevator, but they're there. The only non-accessible transit we encountered is that some trams are not accessible but they seem to have a policy that if a non-accessible tram shows up, the next one (usually within 10 minutes) will be accessible. Munich is a wonderfully accessible city. In fact, it would be easily doable in a power chair.

An early morning flight from Nice has us at our hotel in Munich at 9:00 in the morning. There are two trains from the airport into town, the S-Bahn lines S1 and S8. Our hotel is the Vi Vadi which is one block north of the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. The station is huge (larger than Grand Central) and it takes us a little while to find our way out and to get our bearings for the hotel.

Since it’s early morning, we are thinking we’ll drop off our luggage and sightsee until check in time. We are surprised to find our room is already ready so we go up and unpack. Again, it is pretty much step-free access (a small 2 inch step into the lobby is all there is) and we have a room with one bedroom, kitchen, tiny dining area, fold out couch and a loft with two beds. The bathroom is tiny and none too accessible but we are able to muscle are way around it with the shower chair provided by the hotel.

The room is very nice otherwise with three flat-screen TVs and a full breakfast provided each morning in the restaurant next door. The cost is $1000 for seven nights, or $200 each for the five of us.

Tim has said he wants to see the 1972 Olympic site and, specifically, go to the athletes village to pay his respects to the Israeli athletes who were taken hostage and murdered during those games.

It’s back to the train station, this time to the U-Bahn (U-Bahn is the local subway, the S-Bahn is more of a commuter system for the suburbs) where two trains and 15 minutes take you to the Olympic park station.

Israeli Athletes Quarters from 1972 Olympics

You need to know where you’re going if you want to visit the Israeli athletes accommodations…it is not advertised or encouraged at all. At the station, you walk towards the big, white apartment buildings and find the way for Connellystrasse. There’s a little mini-mall and different colored pipes lead you to different streets in the complex. These apartments were the Olympic village in 1972. The light blue pipe leads down Connellystrasse…watch for the ramps to lead you down to each level. The athletes were in the two apartments on the second floor of 31 Connellystrasse where a small memorial marks the spot and lists the names of the athletes who died.

On the day we were there, two fresh flower bouquets had been placed at the memorial. Later, we found out we’d happened onto the site and on the anniversary of the attack, September 5th.

Afterwards, we made our way back to the U-Bahn station via a little bakery run by a very nice lady at the above mentioned mini mall. We had some delicious donuts and strudel before continuing on.

On the other side of the station is the massive BMW factory. Adjacent to that is BMV Welt, a visitor’s center for all things BMW. Here, you can make arrangements to tour the factory, see the museum, browse all the BMW models on display, see their race cars, visit the gift shop, and…for some reason most fun of all…watch the people who travel here to pick up their new car right off the factory line.

There is a middle level where customers watch as their new car is brought up by elevator from the factory. Then it is driven onto a presentation turntable as the BMW people teach the new owners about their car. When done, they drive off down a massive ramp through the big public space.

After that, an exit out the back of the building leads to a pleasant walk to the Olympic stadium. You cross a bridge over the autobahn…the same bridge that led the athletes into the opening ceremony…and into the Olympic complex itself. It’s 2 Euros to go inside the stadium with its spider-web acrylic panels covering the stands. For an extra charge you can tour that roof…not accessible…and take a zip-line ride across to the other side.

Olympic Stadium

We left the stadium and a short walk later ended up at the Schwimhalle, the indoor pool where Mark Spitz won his then record of 7 gold medals. It is hot inside the pool area…like a sauna…so it felt very good to get out. These days, you can pay a small fee to go swimming and use the diving pool. The day we were there, the big pool was drained but the diving pool was more than big enough for the crowd.

Outside, the former Olympic area is now a rather large park where locals go to relax, have fun, and get some sunshine. There’s a nice lake loaded with swans, ducks, and geese; a large hill to climb; an even bigger tower to ride the elevator up to; and a walk of fame around the lake where celebrities have left their handprints and signatures in the cement, a la Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Still having some time to kill, we walked back to the U-Bahn and caught a train back to the heart of town, Marienplatz. The elevator out of the station deposits you directly on the main plaza, saving you a lot of walking that you do at other stations.

Marienplatz is your typical, medieval style European town square with its many ornate buildings, churches, and street performers except this time, not much of it is ancient. Most of this area was bombed into oblivion during World War II and what you see is a very good recreation of what was here before. We’ll return to the plaza later in the trip, today we want to go to the local market, the Viktualienmarkt, located a couple of blocks away from the plaza behind Sankt Peter Kirche (Saint Peter’s Church).

The Viktualienmarkt

One of the great things to do in any European city is to explore the local market. Here, along with the usual produce stands are wine shops, cheese makers, butter dealers, sausage counters, flower shops, and more. The centerpiece is the biergarten (beer garden) sitting in the middle. Around 100 tables sit here. The few with table cloths are for service by the waitresses. The rest are open to anybody. Browse the market, pick up a picnic, and take a table. A couple of beer stands will be more than willing to quench your thirst.

Our first trip to a real German beer garden is initially intimidating…we are rookies on protocol…but we soon get the gist. A stand at one end sells food. We get some big red sausages, served with your choice of sauerkraut or roasted and pickled potatoes. We get one of each. You can also get the sausage served on a roll or with a pretzel. 

The beer stand next door has big mugs of cold brew on the counter. Take as many as you like, pay the guy on the way out, and make your way back to your table. Now eat, drink, and start talking to the friendly locals sitting around you.

It helps to at least have some basic phrases learned in the local language before you go, such as greetings, asking for directions, or ordering food. You’ll find that this breaks the ice and that once you open up, many Muncheners also speak English. They’re very friendly here in the beer garden and we have a great time hanging out with them.

We walk back to our hotel, taking in our first, major glimpses of the city before settling down for the night. It’s only a 10 minute walk back, or two stops on the underground.

The next day is depressing. There’s no way around it, but this is something that I think is necessary to do. Today is the day we go to Dachau.

It’s less than half an hour by S-Bahn to Dachau…which is a lovely little village…and then about a kilometer bus ride to the memorial which was Hitler’s first concentration camp, now a memorial to Nazi Germany’s victims.

Entrance is free but there is a charge for the audio tour. The entire site is wheelchair accessible save for the re-created barracks.

The infamous gate has those German words telling you your work would set you free. The big building by the entrance served as a processing center for newly arrived prisoners. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Catholic priests made up most of the population at this camp. It was not an extermination center like Auschwitz, but over 30,000 prisoners died here during its operation.

A graphic and brutal documentary starts off the tour (note – the museum is not recommended for children under 12 years old) and there is an eerie silence, although that is much more appreciated than it would be if smiling, laughing tourists were milling about.

It’s an overwhelming place, also noting that disabled people were also on the list of victims. A lot here is hard to stomach…

The barracks which held up to 5,000 prisoners each while only having 11 toilets installed; the “kill zone”…a strip of green grass before the fence where guards had free reign to shoot on sight; the wall where prisoners were executed by firing squad with a little ditch dug in front to catch the blood; the mass graves.

The worst, however, are the crematoria. First, a small building with two ovens for body disposal. When that proved unable to cope with the demand, a second larger facility was built next door.

The Ovens

A macabre assembly line, this building was made for prisoners to enter at one end, strip in the waiting room, lead into the “shower room”…a gas chamber, had the bodies stored in the next room before being burned in the new room with four ovens. Although it is claimed that the gas chamber was never used, some theorize that it had at least been tested because the Nazi authorities were assured that it worked. Nonetheless, all the other rooms in this facility were used…in fact overburdened…for their intended functions. There are still metal rings in the rafters where prisoners were hung before their bodies were fed to the flames.

Incongruously, the area around the camp is beautiful making the shock even more disturbing. Perhaps in an effort to cleanse the awful spirit of the camp, there are four religious chapels and a convent now on the grounds.

In need of some serious cheering up, we skipped the next train out that carried most of the hundreds of visitors in our group and stayed behind in the village for some coffee and dessert. It was quiet, the sweets delicious, and the friendly people of the café eased our disquiet somewhat over what we had just experienced.

Back in Munich, we have dinner at the Augustiner Kellar biergarden, which is a two-block walk from our hotel. Munich has around 400 beer gardens and halls and it is our intention to make a big as dent possible on this number!

The Augustiner, a few acres behind a stone wall, has both. The garden is like a nice park that happens to serve beer and food. There’s even a playground here.

The Augustiner Beer Garden

Snack stands are sprinkled around the periphery selling deli sandwiches, fish, roasted chicken, and more. The main area has a cafeteria-like setting of five stands where you grab a tray and take ‘em on, one at a time. The first stand has kuchen…German for cake. In this case, it’s much like a puffed pancake. If you’ve had fried dough, Indian fry bread, or elephant ears, this is similar except it seems there’s a yeast component that makes it fluff up. It’s exceedingly delicious and we found ourselves going back to this stand frequently.

Next, you can get those great, big German ham hocks with their delicious crackly skin and juicy meat; a variety of sausages; cheeses; salads; soft drinks; light beer; and then the last stand with the cold, Augustiner brew being poured out of a wooden keg into liter sized glasses. A basket of fresh, large pretzels completes the menu. This, and the Viktualienmarkt, turned out to be our favorite places to eat here.

Our hotel features a big, bountiful and hot breakfast buffet at their Italian restaurant next door. That’s one thing I like about German hotels, breakfast is almost always included in the rate..if you find a hotel that doesn’t, skip it and keep looking.

St. Peter's Cemetary, Salzburg Austria

We're heading down to the wire as we have another bountiful breakfast at the Vi Vadi Italian restaurant, which just happens to be attached to our nice Vi Vadi Hotel in Munich.

Well fed and rested up, we head over to the Hauptbanhof for our next adventure. We’re off for a day trip to Salzburg, Austria…home of Mozart and, perhaps better known as, the setting for the movie The Sound of Music.

The Train to Salzburg

The long train is at a far platform outside. Two cars, one at each end, are designated for wheelchairs. The closer one smells like the bathroom is leaking so we make the long trek to the other end where it is much nicer. It’s a 70 minute, very scenic ride.

We purchase Salzburg Card at the Tourist Information office at the Salzburg Hauptbanhof. This gets us admission to most sites along with rides on the public transportation. It’s a short bus ride from there to the old city. A note: most of the buses are accessible but no driver we saw would move a muscle to help.
Salzburg Cathedral

After the ride, we make our way to the Mozart Plaza near the main cathedral, which has a ramp for accessibility. Inside is a huge sanctuary filled with priceless artwork with four organs surrounding the altar. As Mozart was the organist here for two years, his fingers have graced those keys. A brass baptismal near the entrance is where the baby Wolfgang Amadeus was baptized.

Behind the cathedral is a large fountain that turns out to be a horse wash. Like today’s car washes, except horsemen would use it to wash their steeds. A ramp leads in to make it easy for the horse. Just up the alley is an accessible funicular that takes you to the Hohensalzburg, a great 900 year-old fortress on top of the hill. A large terrace here grants you superb views of the city below. This, and an adjacent restaurant, are all that is accessible here. Many stairs lead into the castle itself.
The Horsewash

Back at the bottom, around the corner and up another alley is St. Peter’s cemetery, an absolutely gorgeous burial ground with a monastery built into the hillside. This is where the Von Trapp family hid from the Nazis in the movie, although it was actually a set built to look like this cemetery. In one of the niches on the hillside is buried Mozart’s sister. Out the other end of the cemetery is the Felsenreitschule Theater, famous in the movie as the place where Captain Von Trapp sang Edelweiss. Tours are available but usually you cannot see the interior. A market dominates the next street before you get to the Getreiedegasse, the main shopping street.

Before you go on, there is an accessible restroom in the marketplace, ask one of the workers in the restaurant next door for the key. The last thing we see here is Mozart’s birthplace, which is not accessible. Back across the river is Mozart’s family house that is accessible but by the time we got here, we only had 15 minutes to see inside before closing. That’s ok because it was very hot in there.

On the way back to the station, we see Mirabelle gardens where the movie Maria Von Trapp taught the children how to sing…think “doe, a deer…a female deer…”

It’s a quick bus ride from here back to the station and then back to Munich.

In the morning, I pick up a station wagon from the Hertz desk at the Haupbanhof. The destination for today is Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castle near the border of Austria. Think of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland, it was modeled after this castle.
Tours for the disabled are offered at closing time (6pm) every Wednesday. Advance reservations are a must and the disabled guest gets a 1 Euro discount and an attendant goes along for free. Any extra people need to take the regular tour.

Since we have all day to get there, we hit the autobahn trying to make it to Lichtenstein for lunch.

Once outside of the city, the speed limits stop and we try to make a cruising speed of 100 miles per hour. Like back home, however, there is always some knucklehead that wants to jump in front of you in the left lane going fifty.

We do get a bit lost trying to find the right road to Vaduz and end up in a small town in Switzerland instead. We have a picnic lunch there before doubling back to Schwangau, home of Nueschwanstein.

Although I don’t like or understand the restrictions set in place for disabled visitors, one benefit is that disabled visitors are the only people allowed to drive their car up to the castle. We park within 10 feet of the meeting place for the disabled tour. Since three of us cannot go on that tour, the ticket office down below books us on the last mainstream tour of the day. My mom, finding out that there are over 300 stairs on the tour, volunteers to go on the step-free tour with Tim.

We wait in the castle courtyard for our appointed time, while Tim and my mom wait by the car.
Finally, our tour group is called and in we go.

Ludwig worked on this castle for two decades, bankrupting his country’s treasury in doing so. He had finished 6 rooms inside before he was declared insane and deposed. The next day, the former king and his psychiatrist were found floating face down in a lake. A few days after his death, the castle was opened to tourists and has been one of the top attractions in Bavaria ever since.
The half hour tour takes you through those six rooms. Imagine our surprise, after climbing all those stairs, to see Tim and my mom with their group in the first room.

Each room is lavish. The throne room has a golden brass chandelier with inlaid Bavarian glass jewels with an empty spot for the throne that was never delivered. A theater/ballroom leads to a faux cave, complete with stalagmites and stalagtites. In the king’s bedroom, a porcelain swan faucet pours water from a spring 150 feet up the mountainside.

The two tours are identical, with the exception that the normal tour also gets to see the kitchen and is routed through two(!) gift shops on the way out.

We get a bit lost on the way back and end up back in Munich well after dark.

Since we have the car till the end of the trip, the next day is another day trip, this time to the northern Italian town of Bolzano for lunch and to see Otzi.

It’s around a two hour drive on the autobahn...which turns into the autostrada in Italy...over the Brenner pass through the alps. Into the center of Bolzano, we turn into an underground car park and make our way to the central plaza where we dine on pasta, pizza, and shrimp.

A couple of blocks away is the Archaeological Museum and the home of Otzi. Back in 1991, a couple were hiking in the nearby mountains and saw a body at the edge of a melting glacier. The authorities were called, because it looked like an avalanche victim was uncovered by the spring thaw. The body was taken to the local examiner where it was discovered that this was actually a 5,300 year old body.

Today, the museum focuses on different types of mummies, with its main attraction being that 5,300 year old found in the mountains...Otzi.

There are many human and animal remains on display here with various types of mummification methods. It is completely wheelchair accessible and there is even an in-floor lift that raises you and your chair up so you can see into the vault where Otzi’s body is stored. If this all sounds a bit morbid, it’s not. It’s just another very interesting museum that lacks any sense of the macabre at all.

One more drive back to Munich, and one more chance to get lost, which we do when the autobahn ends and I can’t find a sign pointing us back to our neighborhood. A Best Western hotel is nearby and the desk clerk helpfully points me in the right direction.

Our last day is spent wandering again around the center of Munich, taking in the surfers and naked people of the Englisher Garden; spending another lunch hour in the beer garden of the Viktualienmarkt; seeing the devil’s footprint in the Frauenkirche (Munich’s cathedral and tallest building); the puppets of the Glockenspiel, and of course, having one more lingering dinner under the chestnut trees of the Augustinerkellar beer garden before going home.

Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved